Linear versus Dendritic Molecular Binders for Hydrogel Network Formation with Clay Nanosheets: Studies with ABA Triblock Copolyethers Carrying Guanidinium Ion Pendants
ABA-triblock copolyethers 1a–1c as linear polymeric binders, in combination with clay nanosheets (CNSs), afford high-water-content moldable supramolecular hydrogels with excellent mechanical properties by constructing a well-developed crosslinked network in water. The linear binders carry in their terminal A blocks guanidinium ion (Gu+) pendants for adhesion to the CNS surface, while their central B block comprises poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) that serves as a flexible linker for adhered CNSs. Although previously reported dendritic binder 2 requires multistep synthesis and purification, the linear binders can be obtained in sizable quantities from readily available starting materials by controlled polymerization. Together with dendritic reference 2, the modular nature of compounds 1a–1c with different numbers of Gu+ pendants and PEO linker lengths allowed for investigating how their structural parameters affect the gel network formation and hydrogel properties. The newly obtained hydrogels are mechanically as tough as that with 2, although the hydrogelation takes place more slowly. Irrespective of which binder is used, the supramolecular gel network has a shape memory feature upon drying followed by rewetting, and the gelling water can be freely replaced with ionic liquids and organic fluids, affording novel clay-reinforced iono- and organogels, respectively.